Sometimes the perception of one’s life isn’t seen from the same angles others see them. You set your life up for maximum fulfillment, for financial stability, for the family. Whatever the reason, the goal in one’s life is to be happy and have purpose. In Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, that perception isn’t particularly reality.
Bruce Dern is Woody Grant, a quiet, set in his ways, alcoholic-in-denial old codger that is on a mission: he wants to make his way to Nebraska from Montana to claim a million-dollar prize, by any means necessary. This, of course, is not at all fun to deal with for Woody’s family. His earnest yet unmotivated youngest son David (played by comedian Will Forte) wants to be there for his family, but is going through his own issues in life, so to escape it all he decides to placate his dad and drive him to Nebraska to claim the prize.
In Woody’s way are relatives, old friends of his who’d love nothing more than to have a piece of his newfound fortune, and his no-nonsense, unapologetic wife Kate (played with reckless abandon by June Squibb) who turns out to be more of the glue that holds the family together than they realize. Along with their oldest and most composed son Ross (Bob Odenkirk), the Grants have a family trip for the ages.
Bruce Dern plays an aloof man ever so close to the light at the end of his tunnel and wants to settle all his accounts, and does it in a way that makes you think about your parents and the battle we all lose: the battle of time. You want Woody’s ending to be positive, knowing full well that it’s going nowhere in that direction. June Squibb has more fire and gumption than anyone else in the family and is not afraid to ruffle a few or all feathers, which makes her very entertaining to watch. Rounding out the cast is Stacy Keach, Dern’s nemesis and all-around creep, the man still living his life like the high school bully he seemed to be.
It was an interesting decision by director Alexander Payne to not use color in this film. It wasn’t intended to make the film feel like a period piece, or draw attention to the characters any more than it would if it weren’t in black and white. In our opinion, it speaks more to the melancholy and the mood of the characters themselves. Recent films shot in partial or no color tends to detract from the whole, unless the performances of the characters are so engaging you’d gladly overlook it. For Nebraska, the beautiful landscapes of the North and Midwest United States can’t be appreciated because of the lack of color, but it also achieves the necessary objective of focusing on the story—unlike Payne’s previous Academy Award-winning film The Descendants. This film is more visceral in its storytelling and makes the viewer appreciate the character development over the scenery.
Bruce Dern and Will Forte in Nebraska
This film is nominated for six Oscars, including Lead and Supporting nods for Dern and Squibb, Cinematography and Directing. Great straight-man performances by usual funnymen Bob Odenkirk and Will Forte didn’t earn them any accolades, but were very convincing choices for the roles they played. Squibb’s endearing and at times shocking performance will earn her a lot of Oscar attention, but the category is very steep this year and may be tough for her to come out on top.
Nebraska just released on Blu-ray and DVD February 25, just in time to watch before the Oscars on March 2.

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